Are you a culturally curious lover of letters, do you scroll through a font menu as part of your work? What typography problem can I solve for you?
It doesn’t matter whether it feels silly (I promise it won’t be). Maybe it’s “I want to know how to use those new trippy type trends, but I don’t want to get it wrong” or “I want to choose more adventurous fonts, but I don’t know where to start” or “I want to understand how type links to culture”.
Tell me what your problem is so I can work out how to solve it. Click on the link that best describes you and answer three quick questions:
Thank you! You’re shaping the future of Type Tasting. Your name will be credited in the sequel to Why Fonts Matter, I’ll also share my suggested solutions with you (the typography problems will be kept anonymous).
This is a question I’ve been asked a few times recently because the discussion is currently bouncing around social media. Typography is language visualised. It documents cultural attitudes and narrates social change, so it’s no surprise when it becomes a part of the conversation.
The terms we use in this conversation even originate with printing—the word stereotype comes from making identical solid pieces of metal type for printing from a mould, and the word cliché is a French term for this process.
We live in a global and nuanced world in which naive cultural tropes from the past feel lazy or out of sync with our values today. But it’s not the typefaces that are at fault—it’s the context they’re used in and the associations that are forged through repetition.
Why does context matter? Because what might have been quick visual short-hand for something that seemed exotic and new in the 1950s becomes an outdated or offensive cliché when used today. Or a typeface that suggests ‘gravitas’ on a newspaper masthead, ‘authentic German recipe’ on a beer, conjures up much darker associations when combined with words like ‘White Boy Summer’.
Can a name create fake provenance?
Since writing my first book I’ve tried to find out why decorative Antique Tuscan letters, hugely popular in the Victorian era, have become shorthand for ‘Mexico’. Maybe the silhouette could be a little reminiscent of traditional hacienda architecture, or the letters are spiky like a cactus, or Hollywood has taught us to think of these ornamental wood display types as being ‘wild west’ or ‘western’? But these aren’t genuine or authentic historical links to Mexico, it’s more like a fancy dress font. When I asked a Mexican friend she said ‘only tourists would expect to find that in Mexico’ and the type experts I’ve asked have been unable to shed any light on the mystery.
My theory is that it began when a digitised version of a C19th Antique Tuscan wood display typeface was released in 1990. All the typefaces in this collection were named after kinds of wood to reflect their wood type origins. This particular one was randomly named Mesquite, a plant found in Mexico. Could the name have led graphic designers to assume that the typeface has Mexican provenance? Over the last 30 years this typeface has become a signifier for all things Mexican: Desperados beer (launched in the 1990s), tequila, movie posters, Mexican restaurants etc. Now the cliché has been repeated so many times that it’s hard to unsee.
Here are some really interesting articles…
Karate, Wonton, Chow Fun: The end of ‘chop suey’ fonts
By Anne Quito, CNN, 2021
Here’s a thought experiment: Close your eyes and imagine the font you’d use to depict the word ‘Chinese.’
There’s a good chance you pictured letters made from the swingy, wedge-shaped strokes you’ve seen on restaurant signs, menus, take-away boxes and kung-fu movie posters. These ‘chop suey fonts,’ as American historian Paul Shaw calls them, have been a typographical shortcut for “Asianness” for decades.
‘Neither the food nor the fonts bear any real relation to true Chinese cuisine or calligraphy. But this has not prevented the proliferation of chop suey lettering and its close identification with Chinese culture outside of China.’
White Boy Summer is a bad idea — but are its shirts racist?
By PJ Grisar, 2021
Despite Hanks’ protestations that the white boys in question were white hip-hop artists like himself, the phrase certainly seems like it might appeal to the Charlottesville and Capitol Siege crowd, and the clothing isn’t helping. Internet observers were quick to opine that, while not quite a Camp Auschwitz hoodie, the text on the clothing, in Gothic font, appeared to be a bit… well, Nazi-ish if not just flat-out racist. The Guardian noted that it resembled Fraktur, a style of script used on Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ and early Nazi letterhead. But what if a font is just a font?
Steven Heller, an art director and graphic design historian who’s written extensively on fascist aesthetics, said that White Boy Summer’s merch ‘speaks more to tone-deafness than racism.’
He argued in an email that using blackletter should not be ‘a priori, considered White Supremacist. But the mash-up of word and letter equals a mental picture that is hard to irradicate.’
New Black Face: Neuland and Lithos as Stereotypography
By Letterspace (Journal of the Type Directors Club), 2004
The typeface Neuland was designed by Rudolf Koch in Germany in the early 1920s as a modern version of the German blackletter style. By the time it reached the United States it was simply promoted an advertising typeface, a ‘type that attracts attention’. Koch’s intentions for the font to modernise an ancient form of writing had been entirely lost.
Neuland has come instead to be used as a signifier of the ‘exotic’ or ‘primitive’ and often ‘Africa’, all far removed from the purpose for which its creator originally intended it. You’ll see it on Jurassic Park films, Trader Vic’s, Natural American Spirit cigarettes and The Lion King.
Type designer Jonathan Hoefler says ‘I suspect that designers who use Neuland or Lithos as an approximation of the Africanesque are being unimaginative at best, and jingoistic at worst.’
Would you like to know more about typography and culture?
Join me, Sarah Hyndman, for a Decoding Type Trends (Semiotics) Masterclass. Learn how typography reflects wider cultural trends and future-proof your communications. Ideal for those in the communications industries, designers and students.
Availability is limited so give me a shout now if you’d like to arrange a 10-minute call to find out whether this session is right for you.
Typography is changing. Two decades dominated by sans serif typefaces are coming to an end, which type designer Charles Nix describes as “the waning end of a supertrend”. Are you (and your team) ready for this new and exciting typographic landscape?
It’s an exciting time to explore how type reflects culture right now. I was delighted to run online workshops recently with the inspiring type designers at international type foundry Monotype. This was such a brilliant opportunity for all of us to compare notes as we explored the themes and trends we’ve been seeing and chatted about what we think is coming next.
“I loved the event. I know we are trying to make do with the pandemic situation, but I truly feel like this event was even more impactful and inspirational with this format than being with a bunch of people in an auditorium. Sarah was amazing.”
I think that looking at what’s changing typographically reveals the wider cultural themes of what people care about today. After a year when so much has changed, what things really matter to you today? What do you really value and/or what no longer seems important?
Are you and your team ready for the new typographic landscape and the fast-paced changes that are happening?
How to spot and decode typography trends
You can spot the trends and themes for yourself by keeping a visual diary and by following the people who are talking about what’s happening. This is a great way to future proof your typographic skills in a time of fast-paced change that trends, foresight and strategy company The Future Laboratory call “the great acceleration”.
Think about what’s important to you, how might this have changed over the last year?
When you look at what’s happening in the world, how are cultural attitudes changing?
Take a look at the typographic landscape of the products and services you interact with today—can you see any styles or themes becoming prominent that you might not have seen a few years ago?
When you think about these in context of changing cultural attitudes, do you think there are any links?
Are there any companies or products that you think are doing this really well (or really badly)?
How can you incorporated what you’ve observed into your own design process?
Want to find out faster?
You can book a highly interactive online workshop wherever you are in the world. Your team will be prepared for this exciting new typographic landscape with the tools they need to make effective typography choices.
Decoding Type Trends (Semiotics) Masterclass
From £800 (education discounts are available). This is a live online workshop, which can be delivered anywhere in the world. Availability is limited.
Discover how to decode the typography of everyday products. What does it reveal about changing moods and attitudes? How does it motivate your decisions? How can you future-proof your typographic choices? With a formula for making typographic choices that you can use today and into the future.
Ideal for designers, communications and marketing teams, students.
Join talented international students from USA, Canada, India and Australia who’ve had the unique experience of a virtual tour with Sarah Hyndman discovering the secrets hidden in London’s typography
Just because you can’t travel in person this year doesn’t mean that you can’t experience the culture, history and design inspiration that London has to offer. On a virtual Type Safari you’ll hear the stories behind the signs, discover the secrets hidden in the letters and you’ll find out what they reveal about centuries of London’s history.
Join Sarah Hyndman, author of the bestselling Why Fonts Matter for an immersive and creative tour of Dalston, a vibrant area in East London steeped in history.
• You’ll learn about design history in the real world. • You’ll discover that typography is vibrant, exciting and it’s all around you (not just in academic books). • You’ll see how signage reflects changing cultural attitudes and what trends are popular today.
These are highly interactive sessions that take place live on Zoom. Participants are encouraged to engage with the virtual tour as they explore letterforms and the associations that have been baked into them. Type Safaris are suitable for all, no prior knowledge (or interest in) fonts is needed.
• Compare East London with your local neighbourhood. • Spot the clues that tell you the history of the area. • Discover ornate signs previously hidden from view. • Find out whether you judge a shop by its sign.
Sarah has created online workshops for students at Birmingham City University, Design Ventura, Design Museum London, Ecole Intuit Lab Mumbai & Kolkata, Elon University, North Carolina, Merrimack College, Massachusetts, Ravensbourne University London, Shillington UK & Australia.
She has created in person workshops for students at Arts University Bournemouth, Birmingham City University, California Polytechnic, CIS Abroad, Design Ventura, Design Museum London, EASD València, Ecole Intuit Lab Mumbai & Kolkata, Portland State University, RMIT Melbourne, Shillington UK, University of Bedfordshire, VIA University College Denmark, Wolverhampton University.
Sarah also taught Experimental Typography at the University of the Arts London for six years and has been a judge and jury president for the D&AD New Blood Awards.
I think that an ampersand is an invitation to imagine what will come next. It’s a continuation of an idea, a conversation or a story. The ampersand is sometimes considered to be the 27th letter of the Latin alphabet, originating from the letters ‘et’, Latin for ‘and’, which have been combined to create a single glyph. It’s a character that there is wide affection for and it gives a glimpse of the personality of a typeface without the commitment of being a particular letter.
I asked you what the collective noun might be to describe them, here are some of your inventive suggestions…
THIS IS NOT A DATE—everybody’s welcome. This is an antidote to all the gooey cuteness of Valentine’s Day.
This is a typographically fun and rebelliously creative workshop where you can vent some frustration using fonts. Learn about rebellious typography through history. Explore the sounds that make swear words so satisfying. Subvert lettering to create your own typographic profanities. Suitable for all, no experience needed and you can join this virtual session from anywhere in the world.
Professional development typography masterclasses—not just for designers!
Invest in the professional development of your company with effective Zoom workshops that are engaging and fun with plenty of “aha!” moments.
Typography is the voice of your brand and it’s important for everybody in a company to understand some basics, not just graphic designers.
This is a series of Zoom masterclasses hosted by author, researcher and Type Tasting founder Sarah Hyndman. Sarah’s an expert in making learning fun and is on a mission to make typography exciting for everybody. Each masterclass focuses on an experiential area of typography with enlightening activities, engaging demonstrations and useful how-to guides. These are currently available as live Zoom sessions, which means you can join a masterclass from anywhere in the world.
Ideal for departments across the whole company, not just designers
These are interesting, inspiring and fun workshops with clear and empowering takeaways for people from all roles in a company. They’re ideal as a team-building session or to reinforce the importance of coherent use of language and fonts for your brand.
You can arrange a private session for your group or organisation, or come along as an individual to a public event. Private sessions are modified to suit the participants.
“Such a fun, interesting and inspiring workshop with clear and empowering takeaways. It reinforced the importance of coherent presentation of our brand for colleagues from all parts of our company, in all types of roles.” Nicky Borowiec, Springer Nature
Join me for an online Christmas creativity lunchtime party
Lunchtime Christmas letter making Painting with fonts (live interactive Zoom)
Join Sarah Hyndman author of the bestselling book Why Fonts Matter live to learn about decorative illuminated manuscript letters or Victorian ‘fishtail’ letters. Draw your own letters to send as Christmas cards or for future creative projects.
3 tickets for the price of 2, why not celebrate with freelance friends!
You’ll get a gift of a mystery chapter from the book Why Fonts Matter (pdf) and your own lighthearted Christmas cracker fortune prediction!
Since April 2020 I’ve created and hosted more than 50 online events and I’ve been joined by so many people from countries around the world. This has given me the opportunity to really find out what works and how to create a brilliant online event. Here are 8 proven tips you can use to transform your online event from average to “magnificent”*.
1. Make the decision to create an event and not a webinar.
Decide at the outset whether you’re creating an event or a webinar. A webinar is a passive experience for viewers as their cameras and microphones are off, whereas an event invites active participation.
2. Embrace the live event experience.
Imagine that you’re gathering a group of people together in real life. Make it clear from the outset that you’d like cameras on and explain that this is because it’s a social event and you’d like everybody to feel like they’re in the same room together.
3. Build interactivity into the event.
I invite people to respond in the chat box and, when appropriate, to turn on their microphones and talk. With a really large audience I find it’s amazing to see the stream of chat comments responding to what I’m saying, or with exclamations like “wow” and “haha”. This really connects me to the ripples of audience reactions so I can gauge the response as I would with an in-person audience.
4. Make the interactivity inclusive.
I think it’s important for everybody to feel seen and heard but not uncomfortable. I’m not a fan of cheesy games that make people feel silly or quizzes that feel more like an exam. I like my audience to feel smart and that they’ve learned something new during an event. For example, I might ask what kind of music a Gothic-style letter on a record cover suggests — everybody then gets to compare their answers with each other and to have fun discovering that there are lots of different associations.